UK’s low-carbon energy generation soared in 2015, but so did oil production

Low-carbon energy sources rose to account for 43% of the UK's electricity supply last year, but oil production saw its first significant increase this millennium, provisional figures released today (25 February) have revealed.

The figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC’s) December 2015 energy statistics provide a provisional overview of the UK’s energy production and consumption in 2015.

Low-carbon electricity generation continues to increase, according to the figures, accounting for almost half of the electricity generation (43%) from major power producers last year – up from 33% for 2014.

Nuclear made up the majority of this mix, contributing 23% to the overall generation mix – a 2.5% increase from last year. DECC also noted that the rise in low-carbon electricity generation was in part due to a third unit from Drax being converted into biomass.

The rest of the UK’s electricity generation mix, as detailed in the graph below, consited of gas (31%) and coal (26%).

The total production of low-carbon electricity in the UK rose by almost 14% in 2015, due to the increased availability of nuclear and growth in wind power generation.

In contrast, total production of coal fell by 27% in 2015 – to a record low for the UK – due to mine closures. But DECC’s figures go onto reveal that the production of crude oil and natural gas liquids rose by 13% over the year – marking the first significant increase in oil production since 1999.

Meanwhile, the production of gas in the UK increased by 8% in 2015 – the first time it has done so since 2000. DECC attributed this rise in gas production to the start-up of the Breagh and Jasmine gas fields. DECC has already been warned this week that using natural gas as a bridging fuel to a cleaner energy mix in the UK will only act as a “stop-gap”, with its viability as an energy source severely limited beyond 2020.

Overall, the UK’s primary energy production rose by 9% from 2014, while primary consumption of total energy decreased by 1% – a dynamic that DECC attributes to the ongoing transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Problematic policies

The steady progress of wind generation will be a welcome sight for the Government. Wind energy drove £1.25bn of investment into Britain’s economy last year, with the industry now employing 30,500 people.

As a department, DECC has had to swim against the tide in a bid to promote low-carbon energy in recent months. It recently had to axe a £1bn carbon capture fund after Chancellor George Osborne cut the department’s budget by 22% in his Autumn Statement.

Despite ongoing criticism of green policy changes, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd recently proclaimed 10 ways that DECC is encouraging investment in clean energy. Earlier this week, Rudd’s department said it would ensure the UK had a “secure and resilient energy system” as part of DECC’s new five year departmental plan.

Matt Mace

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